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The Sorrows of Werter

By Johann Wolfgang Goethe


THE day before yesterday the physician came from the town to make a visit to the steward's. He found me upon the floor playing with Charlotte's children; we were tickling one another, and romping, and making a great noise. The doctor is very formal and very solemn; adjusts the plaits of his ruffles whilst he is discoursing with you, and draws his chitterling up to his chin. He thought this conduct of mine very much beneath the dignity of man: I perceived it by his {46} countenance; but I nevertheless continued to rebuild the houses of cards which the children had blown down. He told every body, when he went back, that the steward's children were spoilt enough before, but that now Werter entirely ruined them.

Nothing touches me more than children, my dear friend, when I consider them, and observe in the little beings the seeds of all those virtues and qualities which will one day be so necessary to them; when I see in the obstinate all the future firmness and constancy of a great and noble character; in the capricious, that levity and gaiety of temper which will make them lightly pass over the dangers and sorrows of life; and when I see them all openness and simplicity, then I call to mind the divine words of our teacher, "If you do not become like one of these --" And these children who are our equals, and whom we ought to look upon as our models, we treat them like subjects; {47} they are to have no will of their own. -- Have we then none ourselves? and whence comes this exclusive right? Is it because we are older and more experienced? Great God! from the height of thy glory thou beholdest great children and little children (there are no other) and thou hast long since declared to which thou givest the preference! But it has also been long since declared, that they believe in him, and do not hear him; and their children are after their own image, &c.

Adieu, my dear friend: I will not bewilder myself upon this subject any longer.